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Joseph Gordon-Levitt (born February 17, 1981) is an American actor, known for roles both as a child and as an adult. His career has spanned more than 20 years, during which time he has worked in at least 24 feature films, as well as a number of television shows and theater productions.
The younger of two sons, Gordon-Levitt was born in Los Angeles and grew up in nearby Sherman Oaks. He was raised Jewish. His father, Dennis Levitt, was once the news director for the Pacifica Radio station, KPFK. His mother, Jane Gordon (daughter of director Michael Gordon), ran for the United States Congress in California during the 1970s. She met Dennis Levitt while she was working as the program guide editor for KPFK-FM.
Gordon-Levitt joined a musical theater group at the age of four and played the Scarecrow in a production of The Wizard of Oz. Subsequently, he was approached by an agent and began appearing on television and in commercials for peanut butter, Cocoa Puffs, Pop-Tarts, and Kinney Shoes.
Gordon-Levitt began his acting career at the age of 6, appearing in several late 1980s made-for-television films and two episodes of the series Family Ties. After having a lead role on the short-lived 1991 revival of the television series Dark Shadows as David Collins, he made his feature-film debut with a background role in 1992's Beethoven. Later that same year, he played a young version of Craig Sheffer's character in A River Runs Through It. At the age of 12, Gordon-Levitt took the lead role of Gregory in the film Switching Parents, which was based on the true story of Gregory Kingsley, a boy who won the right to legally divorce his parents. In 1994, he played a Hutterite boy in the comedy Holy Matrimony and appeared in the lead role of the successful Disney film Angels in the Outfield. From 1993 to 1995 he had a recurring role on the sitcom Roseanne.
In 1996, Gordon-Levitt began playing "Tommy Solomon" on the sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun, a role that put him on the map and for which he is most well-known. In 1998, he was a guest star in the first season of That '70s Show, appearing in the episode "Eric's Buddy" as a gay schoolmate of Eric Forman's. During the late 1990s, he also appeared in several films, including The Juror (1996) and the Shakespeare-based teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You (1999), in which he and Heath Ledger had the male leading roles. He performed the voice of the main character Jim Hawkins in the Disney animated feature Treasure Planet (2002), which he recorded in four years, from age 17 to 21.
Gordon-Levitt was attending Van Nuys High School while acting on 3rd Rock from the Sun. During the 1990s, he was frequently featured in teenage magazines, something he resented. He has also said that during this time period, he did not enjoy being recognized in public, specifying that he "hates celebrity." As part of starring in 3rd Rock, Levitt appeared in five of NBC's public service announcements, The More You Know. His topics covered drinking while driving, peer pressure, hate crimes, staying in school, and violence prevention. He also appeared in the annual White House television special Christmas in Washington during the Bill Clinton administration in 1996, the thirteenth season of Celebrity Jeopardy! in 1996, The Daily Show on March 18, 1999, and in the Fox Family television special Dear Santa in 2002.
Gordon-Levitt left 3rd Rock from the Sun during its final season, becoming a recurring character and appearing in only half of the season's episodes. For the two years following, he quit acting and attended Columbia University (the only university he had applied to). He entered in 2000 and attended from 2001 to 2004, studying history, literature, and French poetry in General Studies. Since his study at Columbia, he has become an avid and self-confirmed Francophile, and a speaker of the French language. He has said that moving to New York City (he currently resides in Manhattan's Lower East Side) from his hometown "forced" him to grow as a person.Gordon-Levitt dropped out of the university in 2004 to concentrate on acting again.
In 2001, Gordon-Levitt made his stage acting debut in the critically-lauded off-Broadway premiere of Austin Pendleton's play, "Uncle Bob" opposite George Morfogen at the Soho Playhouse. The production was produced by Rebellion Productions, LLC.
Gordon-Levitt has said that he made a conscious decision to "be in good movies" after returning to acting. Since the early 2000s, he has appeared in what has been described by the Boston Herald as a series of "acclaimed and underseen indies" that "pegged him as a rising star on the indie film circuit." The films include 2001's drama Manic, which was set in a mental institution, 2004's Mysterious Skin, in which he played a gay prostitute and child sexual abuse victim, and 2005's Brick, a modern-day film noir set at a high school (San Clemente High), in which he had the lead role of Brendan Frye, a teen who becomes involved in an underground drug ring while investigating a murder. Brick received positive reviews, with The Minnesota Daily's critic commenting that Gordon-Levitt played the character "beautifully," "true to film's style," "unfeeling but not disenchanted," and "sexy in the most ambiguous way." Another reviewer described the performance as "astounding."
Gordon-Levitt's next role was in The Lookout. He played Chris Pratt, a janitor involved in a bank heist. The film was released on March 30, 2007. In reviewing the film, The Philadelphia Inquirer described Gordon-Levitt as a "surprisingly formidable, and formidably surprising, leading man," while New York magazine stated that he is a "major tabula rasa actor ... a minimalist," and that his character worked because he "doesn't seize the space ... by what he takes away from the character." The San Francisco Chronicle specified that he "embodies, more than performs, a character's inner life." Several critics suggested that his role in The Lookout would turn Gordon-Levitt into a mainstream actor. His 2008 films include Killshot, in which he played an assassin opposite Diane Lane and Mickey Rourke, and Stop-Loss, directed by Kimberly Peirce and revolving around American soldiers returning from the Iraq War, also starring Gordon-Levitt's Rise of Cobra co-star and real-life friend, Channing Tatum.
Gordon-Levitt has received several praises and positive reviews for his performances. Observing Gordon-Levitt's current acclaim from critics and audiences alike, Showbiz notes that Gordon-Levitt has "defied the cliched fates that befall most underage actors when they grow up," while The New York Times has described him as "one of the hottest young stars in the indie firmament." Gordon-Levitt, who regularly researches his roles by exposing himself to real-life versions of the character before shooting, does not label himself as a method actor.
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